As we finally sit back and sip on our peppermint mochas, the year end generic habit is to answer a question: What should we do next year? Or, more precisely- what should we add next year in our lives, that, we somehow missed this time.
Yup- I am talking New year Resolutions.
Change, most of all, has been related to *adding* things, *doing* stuff in our life. Whether you want to work out more times in a week or improve your sleep by taking a supplement, isn’t it a bit bizarre that we always equate change to adding things? What if change involved subtracting? That is- what if instead of overloading ourselves with tons and tons of stuff, we started subtracting the extras and learned to thrive with the essentials?
We’re so focused on answering what should we do, that, we often fail to question the alternative- *what shouldn’t we do?* Stripping out the unnecessary, in a very real sense, leaves room for the necessary.
This year, I did tons of subtracting, and let me tell you- I feel as if a weight has been lifted. More importantly, my physical and emotional health has improved significantly.
Here are just three things I subtracted from my life this year and where it got me.
What I did: Started Fasting
Where it got me: Improved Productivity and Health
Something I always noticed after breakfast was how sleepy and sluggish I got, regardless of what type of breakfast I ate. It would impact my productivity most of the time, so much so, I was actually caught sleeping off at work once. Further, I observed that although I wasn’t hungry in the morning, the thick norm of eating breakfast compulsorily (because it’s SO good for you) got to me.
So, on a Friday morning in my university’s cafeteria, I chugged down orange juice while reading an article about Fasting. And, for a month, I decided to see what would happen if I skipped breakfast.
At first, my head hurt a lot, perhaps because I was a keen student of the saying- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, as time went on, I started noticing change- productivity and health wise. Firstly, I started becoming super productive during the day. In fact, I deliberately did my most important tasks, first thing in the morning at work.
I was on fire!
Surprised by my results, I started reading about fasting. I mean, if everyone says breakfast is the most important meal of the day, why do my results prove otherwise?
At first, I learned that the whole notion of breakfast being the most important deal of the day is a myth. I read journal article about the benefits of fasting and got really into it, in fact, I even joined a slack community filled of fasting enthusiasts called WeFast.
The most exciting part about this journey was challenging the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I learned that concept and norms are not certain, that, we have the power and ability (especially right now) to challenge them.
So, maybe, instead of thinking about how you should work out more in your week, you can consider fasting. Don’t take my word for it- go read about it! Do your own research.
I’d suggest joining the slack community as a start, there are tons of experienced folks there who can help guide you. Just google “WeFast Slack community”, you’ll find us.
What I did: Stopped setting alarms
Where it got me: Better workouts and deeper sleep
When I was in high-school, I was a strong follower of the whole NO SLEEP philosophy. Convincing myself that I’m just a late night owl, I’d work all night and get maybe four to five hours of sleep on a good day.
That got me nowhere. I started noticing that regardless of how much I’d prepare for a test, if I didn’t sleep well, I’d fail to perform optimally. But, I ignored that. To me, not sleeping meant I was busy, which meant I was successful.
In a way, telling someone that I only got five hours of sleep was a badge of honor.
Fortunately, college taught me how to prioritize sleep. Now, I’m in bed by 10:30-11 (max) and up by 7.
So, what led to this shift?
In a sentence- I stopped settling alarms.
At first, I woke up at different times in the morning, but then, I noticed that if I sleep at the same time every night, I’d wake up seven and a half hours later. No alarm clock needed. Setting alarm, in our society today, has become a norm. As much as we promote and practice freedom, we’re still one hundred percent okay with letting machines tell us when to wake up, instead of letting our bodies spearhead our sleep schedules.
So, how has this helped me? Well, for one, not setting an alarm encourages me to go to bed at the same time everyday. There is an internal biological clock (called the circadian rhythm) that our body uses to operate, and to use that to our advantage, we first need to be consistent with our sleep schedules.
The typical sleep cycle consists of six phases, starting from light sleep and going to the deeper sleep phases like REM or rapid eye moment. So, logically, the best phase to wake up to would be light sleep, which, the circadian rhythm can take care of, in absence of other distractions. The alarm clock, unfortunately, doesn’t know which phase we’re in, which is why we feel groggy after waking up (in essence, what has happened is we’ve woken up in the deep sleep, or the REM phase).
Now, of course, at first this experiment (so to speak) may seem scary. What if we sleep in and miss work? This is why, when you actually implement this, start small. At first, become aware of how many hours you sleep on average. Weekends are the best occasions to notice that. Then, follow the same routine with an alarm and notice if you wake up before the alarm rings. After a couple of weeks of repeating that, trust your circadian rhythm and don’t set an alarm.
I’ve found the app Sleep Clock, to be very useful when experimenting. It’s different because it records which phase of sleep you’re in and only wakes you up in one of your lighter phases of sleep.
P.S: If you still believe that sleep is for the weak, I’d encourage you to read Sleep Revolution, a book by Arianna Huffington.
What I did: Stopped doing multiple things at once
Where it got me: More Headspace, focus, and better productivity
As millennials, we pride ourselves on being able to juggle multiple tasks at once. Now, along with finishing that paper, we’re talking to our friend and planning the weekend. Both at the same time. Multitasking, in a weird way, is perceived to be a skill that is useful in society today.
But, is it really?
We’ve become so accustomed to focusing on quantity that quality doesn’t seem like a major concern now. We’d rather finish five things half-heartedly than finish one thing with a hundred percent focus.
So, to change this toxic habit, I trained myself this year to not multi-task. At first, I failed miserable. Not doing two or more things at once actually made me anxious, it made me feel like I was in a race and if I didn’t multi-task, someone was going to get ahead.
I had to learn how to stop.
And then I noticed why it was so hard to stop- because the habit has been engrained in us so much, that all we do is multi-task. Let’s forget the context of work for now, even everyday things like eating have been affected. We don’t pay attention to what or how we eat, our food, nowadays, has been accompanied by Netflix or some other form of distraction.
Our phones go with us everywhere, and they act like a form of distraction- an extra thing we can do regardless of what we’re currently doing in the present moment. Forgive me for using such an absurd example but even using the bathroom has become another opportunity for us to check emails or scroll through our Instagram feed.
So, think about it: in a very real sense, if we can’t even go to the fucking bathroom without carrying something else with us, how can we expect to focus our attention at one task during work?
Change, just like always, started from the ground up.
Regardless of how trivial an activity was, in that moment, I tried my best to just focus on doing that. As I applied this endeavor to everything I did, I started noticing how much I despised multi-tasking. In fact, during class, I didn’t even open my laptop. I noticed that if I did, I couldn’t really focus on class discussions.
As I got better and better at focusing on one thing at a time, I started realizing how beautiful the idea of less is. Society convinces us that to flourish, we need to be, have, and do more. Bliss, however, comes with less. Less, but important. Quality replaces quantity.
Bruce Lee puts the concept of less brilliantly: “one does not accumulate, but eliminate. It is not daily increase, but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity”
Over To You
Another typical attitude to change is to “start fresh”. This time, however, I encourage you to start experimenting with these ideas today. Don’t wait till 2018, as the saying goes: a year ago, you wish you had started today.
And if there’s anything I wish you picked up from this post, it’s this- the idea that less, most of the time, can actually be better for us than more. That, change can involve subtracting and simplicity.